Will migrants stay in the regions?

5:56 pm on 27 July 2015

The head of Business New Zealand wants to ensure migrants who are enticed to the regions, under a new immigration policy, stay in the area.

Prime Minister John Key has announced plans to get more skilled migrants moving to the regions rather than setting up in Auckland.

Phil O'Reilly.

Business New Zealand's Phil O'Reilly says the trick will be getting migrants to stay in the regions. Photo: BUSINESS NZ

From November, those who've been offered a job outside Auckland will be awarded higher bonus points when applying for residency. In return, migrants would need to commit to the regions for at least 12 months.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said it was a positive change for businesses but the trick would be not just in getting migrants to the regions, but getting them to stay.

"It will be important the Government works with businesses and the regions where the migrants might now come ... so that employment opportunities are thought about and offered properly to make sure skilled migrants come into a regional area of New Zealand and then stay there," he said.

From the middle of next year, about 600 long-term migrants who had been living in the South Island on temporary work visas will also be given residency.

Mr O'Reilly said Business New Zealand had been advocating for these migrants to be able to establish themselves in the country for some time.

"These people are already contributing enormously to New Zealand now, and they're critical to many of the businesses in rural and regional New Zealand.

"So I think giving them the opportunity to move forward to a more permanent status in New Zealand is good for them, good for the businesses in which they operate, and good for the communities in which they live."

'Pragmatic'

Lawrence Yule

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yules says the policy is a "pragmatic approach". Photo: LGNZ

The mayor of Hastings and head of Local Government New Zealand, Lawrence Yule, said mayors in the regions would welcome skilled migrants with open arms.

"I think they've got to balance up everything in the mix, so they've incentivised business investment at a higher level than normal migration. So I think it's a pretty pragmatic approach ... I'm pleased by it."

Mr Yule said it had been something they had been wanting for years.

But a director of migration consultancy Malcom Pacific, Aussie Malcolm, said the changes were just window dressing.

Mr Malcolm, a former immigration minister, said similar plans in the past had failed.

"In the past when they've tried to take regional approaches ... you can't guarantee people stay there, they go to the regions then they gravitate back to the cities, for exactly the same reason people in the regions gravitate towards the cities," he said.

Mr Malcom said the concept of giving more points towards residency for migrants who live in the regions would attract the wrong type of migrant.

"What we tend to get is a person who's not acceptable to the mainstream immigration policy - in other words, you wouldn't be going for those extra points unless you needed them, because you were failing on the basic policy," he said.

Prime Minister John Key said the changes would boost the number of migrants living in the regions.

Mr Key said it would not be possible to tell people they were never allowed to move from a regional centre, but he believed it unlikely migrants would use the changes as a "back door way" of getting to Auckland.

Mixed responses from the regions

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt had been pushing for the policy but also wanted to know how it would be enforced.

"Is it ankle bracelets? How do you know they're not just going to come in from Invercargill and then wait a couple of weeks until everyone's forgotten about them and then head straight off to the ghettos of Auckland?

Tim Shadbolt in his office

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt: "Is it ankle bracelets?" Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton told Morning Report the challenge was two-fold, in attracting immigrants and then retaining them, and it was up to the regions to ensure the latter.

Mr Dalton said Napier had set up business and support hubs to welcome immigrants, but it needed an incentive for them to come, which the Government was now offering.

The mayor of Clutha District, Bryan Cadogan, asked why migrants were being given incentives to work in the regions when there were unemployed youth in need of opportunities.

Mr Cadogan said the policy was better than what currently existed, but asked why unemployed youth were not being given incentives as well.

"The pragmatist in me says that if we just want to focus on this issue, then it's better we put them into the regions than into the overheated Auckland market.

"But why don't we take a broader issue of what we're actually doing here and what we could be doing with our young? I think we're missing the ball completely."

He said, though migrants were hard-working, they were only required to make a commitment to the area for 12 months before they were able to leave, while young people in the region were committed for life and needed the work.

Far North Mayor John Carter supported what he saw as a short-term policy, but said his council would continue to focus on upskilling people already in the region.

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